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Do you like fish? I hope so, because this poker lesson will not only feed you some tasty morsels that will keep you satisfied for short-term, but it will also teach you how to fish so you can feed yourself for the rest of your poker career.
Later on in the lesson we will provide some common betting patterns that you will see in many low and mid-stakes poker games. Recognizing these patterns will certainly help you improve your skills. But learning how to read your specific opponents is the most important skill that can help you become successful in the game of poker. If you can determine individual patterns and how someone plays in certain situations, you’ll unlock the door to the magic room where all their poker secrets are held.
Learning to Read
How do you learn to get inside your opponents heads? You must develop the two important skills of observation and empathy. The power of observation simply comes from opening up your mind and paying attention to everything going on around you instead of just paying attention to yourself. Empathy, which is understanding others feelings, comes into play when you simply ask yourself, why? Much of this comes through years of experience at the poker tables, but you can even short-cut this process by practicing these skills in everyday life.
When observing play at the tables and to start the process of reading, you have to first ask yourself questions about your opponents:
- How experienced are they?
- What level are they thinking on?
- Do they understand all the factors that go into making a decision?
You can usually pick a lot of this information up by just watching the first few orbits of the game. Are they making common beginner mistakes or do they seem like they know what they are doing? If you are playing poker live, listen to table talk and see if you can pick up if they use poker lingo or if they are new to the game. If you’re playing poker online then do some homework to pick up knowledge of your opponents, how long they have been playing and how successful they are.
After you have a general idea of whether your opponents know what they are doing or not, you should start taking notes on their patterns in common situations:
- How do they play pre-flop? Do they limp marginal hands and only raise with their strong hands? Do they steal the blinds often in late position? How often do they 3-bet? Do they seem to steal from under the gun often?
- Do they often check/fold if they miss the flop after raising? Do they bet once and give up on the turn? Are they capable of double barrelling / triple barrelling?
- How do they play their draws? Do they semi-bluff? Do they check/call? Do they ever check-raise?
- What happens when they hit their draw? Do they slowplay? Do they bet it hard? Or do they go for small value bets?
- How do they play their big hands? Do they bet hard? Do they slow play?
- How do they play their marginal hands like top pair/weak kicker or middle pair? Do they call once and fold? Do they call all streets? Do they check-raise to define their hand? Do they donk lead the flop out of position or check?
- Do they tilt easily when things don’t go their way?
So that’s the observation part of the game. Now add the layer of empathy. Why did they make that decision? What does this say about them as a player and their overall game? These answers will help you determine their poker personality and an appropriate strategy to use against them.
Common Betting Patterns
Now that you’ve learned some ways to improve your reads, here are some specific examples of betting patterns to watch for. Obviously these can never be 100% accurate and you should base your decisions on reads you’ve picked up from your opponents, but the following is a short-cut guide to some common betting patterns from beginner and intermediate poker players that you will see in no-limit hold’em:
Same bet size on the turn as the flop
By not increasing their bet size on the turn, this is often a sign of weakness. The feel like they should bet but are afraid to commit too much. This is often a hand like middle pair or top pair with a weak kicker. You can often raise this bet and take down the pot.
Check/call, small bet on the turn
When someone checks, calls and then all of a sudden bets into you on the turn really small this is often a “blocking bet” on a draw. They may have had the draw on the flop or they have a weak pair and picked it up on the turn. The small bet is designed to allow them to draw for cheap, so charge them more!
Check/call, check min-raise
Ever wonder how to read if someone has a set? This is a very common line for a set or other big hands. This is especially true on really dry boards like . They slowplay the flop and when you bet the turn again they realize you have something, but don’t want to bet too big and cause you to fold.
Check/insta-call, check/insta-call…pause on river…bet
Can you guess the river card? Yes, it put a third flush card out there. Guess what… they have a flush! When someone calls really fast it often means they don’t have to think about their decision. For example, they already decided to chase the flush and once it hits they all of a sudden start thinking. If the flush card doesn’t come, this pattern is often indicative of a missed draw that is now bluffing.
Min bet, min bet, big river bet
This betting line often happens in limped pots when there is a draw on board that doesn’t hit. For some reason, people will bet the minimum as a semi-bluff on two streets and then when they miss their draw, they decide to bet big to get their opponents to fold.
Pre-flop raise of 4x+ from someone who usually limps or raises 3x
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This is much more common in live play and is often the sign of someone with a hand they don’t want to see the flop with. This is most commonly JJ or AK, but can also include other hands in that range like TT, QQ, AQ and even AA from a player who is scared of getting them cracked.
Pre-flop open limp from an aggressive player who always raises
You don’t see this as much online these days, but it is certainly something to watch for live. It’s highly likely that the player has AA or KK and doesn’t want people to fold.
A player who always continuation bets the flop and now checks
This is very similar to the thought process behind the aggressive player who limps aces. If someone is continuation betting almost 100% of the time and now decides to check, this is a sign of a very big hand and you should proceed with caution.
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Now that you’ve got a taste of some common patterns, see if you can pick up others yourself. Remember that poker is a game of observation and betting patterns will evolve over time. It’s also worth mentioning that betting patterns will also change as you move up in stakes – so be prepared to adapt when this happens. If you remain observant and learn to pick up on patterns whilst asking yourself “why is this person betting this way?” you’ll be on your way to poker mastery.
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By Donovan Panone
Donovan started playing poker in 2004 and is an experienced tournament and cash game player who has a passion for teaching and helping others improve their game.
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